Friday, September 29, 2017

How I Found Peace About Mormon Polygamy

Throughout the millenia of human experience, both within the haven of religious fervor and without, polygamy has found its way into countless lives.  We recognize of course, that for the most part, this is due to culture and not the commandments of God but those times we find stalwart, heaven fearing men like Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon who engage in polygamy as part of their devotion to divine will it seems more poignant and painful than ever.  Make no mistake, polygamy extends to several major religions - not just Mormonism.

But to return to the subject at hand, to women in this century the idea that God could condone and even demand polygamy of these righteous men and women seems a highly intelligent reason to fling the idea of God aside, condemn religionists as liars and demand that these things cannot possibly be honestly sanctioned.

I hear you.  I felt the same way and spent years wrestling with this dilemma, even to the point of frequent and soul wrenching tears.

I am convinced that there stands only one way to come to terms with religion in the time of Joseph Smith or indeed at any time.  But to come to the answer one must work for it.  These are the deep mysteries of the Almighty and He gives them to those who do His will.

I came to the peace aforementioned after passing through years of spiritual travail and thus I cannot convey all I learned or endow any reader a burning personal testimony of their own.  But I can bear witness.

I confess I could not wrap my brain and heart around divinely sanctioned polygamy but even so I continued in the devotion I knew was right.  I had gained a testimony of Mormonism and though this aspect proved a trial, I was determined to go and do whatever God saw fit. 

He asked for an awful lot.

But as I followed His instruction day by day, He taught me.  I learned to hear His voice, to trust in the face of feeling abandoned and to put my own wisdom aside in favor of His.  My spirit refined. Slowly and surely He began asking harder and harder things until the trials became so earth shattering that I couldn't believe that God would ask such difficult things of me.  But ask He did and I understand now that the reason He does is because He wants to make us like He is.  He can comprehend all things - all of heaven and all of hell.  He can understand every virtue, every vice, every mental justification, and the workings of great galaxies and tiny cells.  I needed those trials to expand my mind and spirit so that I might also eventually understand all things.

So it is with polygamy.  Prophets that have followed the law of polygamy have been asked to do so by the Almighty because they have reached a spiritual pitch so high that they require ever harder trials to open their minds to those things that human understanding cannot contain.  Polygamy is, among other things, a tool God uses to pry open the mind to an absolutely soul wrenching and painful degree so that He might pour extraordinary light into it.  It also fully and completely brings the people involved to their knees before Him, as this is a trial they could not possibly handle on their own.

As to how these relationships will play out in the eternities, I think it best to trust in the Lord and leave the details to that great intelligence and perfect foreknowledge that so perfectly transcends our own.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Moonstones and Hopeful Trails

Expelled from Ohio and traveling west the Saints found their shelter at last.  A muddy, undesirably swamp was their home but Joseph declared it'd be blessed and rightly he spoke for, draining the land they founded a beautiful town, erected a temple of glorious height, creating a place of renown.

Their "Nauvoo the Beautiful" sparkled from far and bricks became exports of state.  Their sunstones shone high on fair temple walls but to stay here would not prove their fate for wickedness, murder and lies would arise and Joseph wouls meet a sad end.  But hearts full of hope would march westward again and the Spirit of God would descend and carve out a way through a river of ice so the "Mormons" could rise once again.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Held Prisoner in an Ice House

Have you ever felt cramped and uncomfortable from riding too long in a car?  Have you ever finished a long flight and upon landing couldn't wait to stretch your legs?  So have I.  And in traveling thus I found myself held tremendously spellbound by the agony that Joseph Smith and his comrades must have endured during their incarceration at the infamous Liberty Jail.

Small wonder that the prison only operated for a few short years before it was closed, the government deeming it unfit for human life.  A miserable cellar, only six feet from floor to ceiling with no windows, natural light or ventilation held a prophet of God and a handful of followers for several months while Governor Boggs of Missouri declared it legal and upright to slaughter every Mormon man, woman and child in cold blood.  

I had read the stories of "Liberty Jail" before and I find it sad irony that the two words so desperately contradict each other. After its closure it became an ice house, protecting ice from the elements even in the middle of a stifling July.  Such were the conditions for the unfortunate few residing in the belly of this fortress.

Joseph tipped his hat politely to the waiting crowd of naysayers upon his arrival at the prison and, bidding them a good afternoon, walked calmly toward the cruelty of what would be a poignant learning experience and possibly the lowest time in his life.  As I pondered the enormity of this moment I cleared my mind and invited the Spirit of the Lord to teach me.  It seemed for an instant as I sat in this hallowed bit of history, that these original walls and floor still echoed with the anguished cries of the prophet.  It seemed to me that his agony hung in the air, desperately aching not only for himself but more importantly for his unprotected people who were struggling through such terrible persecution, frightened and leaderless.

But as in all things, this proved not only a hellish trial but an era of particular closeness to God.  One inmate recorded that it was more a temple than a prison with the Prophet Joseph with him within those four walls.  Though they ate little and rotted food, though they shivered and pleaded for justice, some of the most beautiful revelations we have on record also transpired in this place and the Lord taught Joseph and all those who read his revelations that "all these things shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good."


The Beginning and the End of the World

My childhood included a fervent, burning testimony of Joseph Smith as a prophet.  I knew this as a fact and it thrilled me with a passion that overwhelmed my senses and ignited my soul.  I studied his life voraciously, never seeming to get enough.

As I grew older, speculations arose among those scholars of religion with whom I found myself associated and I noticed that those who thirsted for obscure mysteries of God had a tendency to take the simple truths of the gospel and distort them.  I met with people who wanted to know all the details of the second coming more than they wanted to know how to aid the poor and comfort the afflicted.  The fervor of their arguments and the passion of their worldly arrogance proved repugnant to my feelings and for that reason there were some prophecies of Joseph Smith I for the most part simply left alone.

One such was the prophecy and revelation that a part of the state of Missouri, which we as Saints call Adam ondi Ahman, and which is near the town of Far West, was the site of the Garden of Eden.  Joseph proclaimed that this was in fact the place where Eden stood and that at the end of the world as we knew it, Jesus would reign personally upon the earth from this very spot of ground.  I neither questioned nor altogether accepted this doctrine, but placed it in the back of my mind and contented myself to wait until God either verified or disproved it.  And thus I continued my learning and journey.

This journey of life led me finally toward the land near Far West and along a narrow highway which wound its fragile path toward Adam ondi Ahman.  Earlier that morning, I had determined to clear my mind.  I would be a student of the Almighty, and not attempt to bring my own conclusions with me.  I would simply be and allow the Lord to teach.  And what I learned blew me away.

I entered the area, cruising carefully in my rented Ford Flex and keeping this resolution in mind when a force as I had never felt forced itself upon me.  My mind cleared and I felt and nearly saw that indeed, this was the place where Eve and Adam had dwelt and labored.  Progressing further, the air about me seemed to change and I breathed in sheer, pure, and certain glory. It seemed to me that here was a place where earth and the powers of heaven met in a channel of power that I did not know could exist in this mortal, transitory realm.

Neither was I alone in this emotion.  My son proved awestruck and my daughter still describes it as one of the greatest sites we visited.  The spirit of the place proved so real, so certain, and so completely undeniable that all voices automatically dropped to a hush and I found myself involuntarily saying, "Surely, this place is the beginning and end of the world."

Many may scoff at such a testimony.  I understand.  It seems bizarre that such a place could exist here - for many of us in our own backyard.  But I feel myself bound to testify that it is so.  No human voice has taught this to me and no mortal hand could have created the ethereal atmosphere that exists in this place where "man and God" meet - the significance and divine promise of the phrase Adam ondi Ahman.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Reflections on the Kirtland Temple

When the temple in Kirtland was dedicated, both believers and skeptics beheld miracles associated with the ceremony.  Angels walked across the roof, paced up and down walkways, and stood beside the leaders of the church.  A light like fire drew frantic neighbors to the edifice, only to find that though the structure stood in the midst of ethereal light, it showed no symptoms of burning to the ground. 

A friend informed me that angels ought to still reside in that building and in truth it is possible that they do, though our own generation has grown too wicked and hard hearted to see them.  True it is that after the Saints necessarily fled Kirtland, Ohio for fear of their lives, the temple was desecrated and eventually turned from rendering life giving ordinances to serving as a museum to the past.

But as I entered the worship room, the room where the Prophet Joseph beheld the Lord Himself, along with several ancient prophets of the Old Testament, a feeling of light and power remains.  Instinctively, my eyes found a spot on the pulpit where the resurrected Lord had stood, though no one had told me previously exactly where He had been and though there are several places in the temple that look almost exactly the same.  Sure enough, I was informed that this was the place Joseph indicated the Messiah had tutored him.  
Some feel it a tragedy that this precious and beloved temple fell into tragedy, housing livestock instead of heavenly glory after the exodus westward.  But in counseling the Lord, and knowing His wisdom transcends all things, I cannot help but feel joy in this brief transition.  We often cringe at the idea of a temple being employed as a barn, but was not the Savior of the world first nurtured in a stable?  Herein we find the beauty and wisdom of God’s eternal plan, made evident in the beauty and grace we find in even the harshest of trials.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Other Mormon Church

The feelings of many Latter Day Saints in visiting Kirtland might prove at once jubilant and agonizing.  It is a place that mingles in the hearts of those who call themselves members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints both awe and anguish.  Part of the negative emotions might arise from the fact that our beloved Kirtland Temple, the temple our ancestors built with not only their broken china but with their faith and labor, resides in hands other than our own.  

Temple of the Community of Christ
The death of the Prophet Joseph brought many alterations in the lives of the Saints, not least of which included appointing a new prophet and president of the Church.  I know for a certain fact that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints retains the right to priesthood and apostolic authority, but a splinter group broke away and appointed Joseph’s son as his rightful successor.  It is this group that owns our beloved temple.  Many of the members of the Church feel uncomfortable and blame Joseph’s wife, Emma, for destroying unity.  While the rest of the Saints trudged westward under the direction of Brigham Young, Emma stayed behind and helped create this rift.   

Recently, the LDS Church donated a great deal of money to the reorganized group for the upkeep of the temple and animosities smoothed to some extent.  

The past week has brought me to many of the most noted sites of LDS history and as I came upon this rivalry I pleaded that heaven teach me why the church split.  Surely God could have prevented this.  Why did He, in His infinite wisdom, allow such a heart rending divorce?  

Temple site at Independence
And as I pondered thus, awake and receptive to His counsel, the answer came.  I understood the reasoning so well that it seemed absurd that I had never realized it before. The Lord saw a larger picture and sat, gazing calmly at the world from a much higher vantage point than mine, or Emma’s or even Joseph Smith’s.  The Church as a body fled from persecution in order to find a more stable home where they might worship God in peace.  That certainly proved a necessity.  However it transpired, for whatever reason we might employ to explain the situation, our progression as a people necessitated one party strengthening itself in the Salt Lake valley and another group maintaining all the sacred sites pertaining to Joseph Smith and the restored gospel.  If the reorganized LDS Church had not stayed in Palmyra and the like, the Sacred Grove would not have been held sacred.  It might have been bulldozed to create a parking lot or mini mart.  The presence of believers in the eastern United States ensured that we have a way to look back and accurately view the past.  Because of this rift, places like Independence not only have retained the reverence of the populace but we know exactly where these places were located.  No one forgot the place Joseph called Adam ondi Ahman because his family and others stayed in this region and continued to honor these sites.  Someday perhaps we will resolve our differences enough to merge together as one.  But for the moment, we can rejoice together, pray reverently together, and study the Book of Mormon together.  God has a mighty plan of reconciliation and forgiveness.  All is well!    

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Oh Lord, My God!

“Oh Lord my God!” 

These words rang out through the tiny village of Carthage in the afternoon of June 27, 1844 as a man, hunted and persecuted very literally to death, fell, wounded and bleeding from a second story window to the unforgiving ground beneath. 

A somber air hangs over the scene even now, more than a hundred years beyond the grave and one might very well wonder how it can be that civilized men could form such an unruly mob in order to put to death a preacher for testifying his love and knowledge of the Savior Jesus Christ. 

The reality of these events came flooding into my mind as my finger caressed the bullet hole in the simple wooden door that separated four honest disciples from 200 bloodthirsty demons of hell in the guise of human flesh as they clamored up the stairs with murder in their hearts and obscenities in their mouths.  The original floorboards that soaked up the blood of Hyrum Smith and John Taylor remained sturdy beneath my feet as I left the scene of cold blooded homicide and carefully walked down the steep stairs that Joseph’s tread was destined never to grace again.

But it was outside the prison house, beneath the window that my heart truly grew solemn.  Here was the spot where this magnificent prophet’s lifeless body had met the earth in one terrible crash. 

What of his last words?  People often wonder whether or not this man truly was all he said he was.  Some consider him a liar, a fabricator, an adulterer and a threat.  Perhaps they have their reasons for attacking him even now with vehemence and hatred.  But those words still echo in the streets of Illinois and throughout the pages of history.  These words left his mouth after he had been shot twice in the chest and as his nearly spent body fell through the air, plummeting toward death.  Very likely at that point they were involuntary and illustrate where he had most spent his time, his thought and his effort and where he most acutely placed his hope and his faith.  Was this the final cry of a robber or a madman?  No.  This was prayer of a man so deeply involved in the service of God that his whole soul yearned upward even as his frame collapsed to the floor.  This was the profession of faith of a man who worshiped and honored the Lord his God, and proclaimed the truthfulness of His gospel with literally his very last breath.